I locked up the office and set the alarm then instead of going home, I walked across the parking lot to the coffee shop. Fig was there, her laptop open in front of her, an untouched apple fritter at her elbow. She smiled when she saw me and cleared a place for me to sit.
“Hey, Dr. Suess.” She smirked. “Fix a bunch of people today?”
“People can’t be fixed, silly rabbit.” I pulled the pastry toward me and pulled off a corner. To most of my circle I was gluten intolerant, but today I was on edge. What the fuck did the shits matter when your wife was about to find out you had failed to keep the vows?
Fig was staring at me. I cleared my throat. “It’s good,” I said, motioning to the apple fritter.
“What’s wrong with you? You’re acting like me,” she said.
I licked the sugar from my thumb as I stared at her. Proof that the nutter had some self-awareness. Her abandonment of social graces and her acute perception of moods was my favorite thing about her. She’d call you crazy while being fucking crazy. It was kind of hot. My least favorite thing—her Looney Tune eyes. God, they gave me the creeps. You could almost picture fucking her until you got to the eyes. They were like those of the women I’d seen in the psych ward during my internship. Just put a bag over her head, my buddy Mike would have said.
“Just a strange day,” I said. “Ever feel like you belong and don’t belong at the same time?”
“Absolutely.” She nodded. “Like every day since I was born.” She laughed.
“We’re just two misfits, aren’t we, Fig?” I could tell she liked that. She’d probably go home and repeat it to herself. Buy me a Christmas present and engrave the word on it.
“Yup,” she dragged out the middle of the word, looking resigned. “Are you going to eat that?” She pointed not to the pastry, but to a straw wrapper. Not many people knew about my Pica. I ate things: threads from sofa cushions, the little plastic things that attached price tags to clothes, Band-Aids, the soft plastic rings around the lids on two-gallon milk jugs. My personal favorite: toothpicks. I could eat a box of those fuckers for dessert.
I picked up the straw wrapper, balling it up. For her amusement, I popped it into my mouth and chewed. She shook her head, smiling.
“So fucking weird.”
I launched into a story about how I ate my parents’ couch when I was sixteen. It took me a whole year, but the thing was threadbare by the time I was done. I told her because she liked to hear my stories. For all my shit talking, I liked Fig. She made me feel less fucked up, because let’s face it, it was hard to reach the level of fucked up that was Fig Coxbury. After all, I’d never stalked anyone. That shit was messed up.
My wife was a fool. It sounded harsh, but it was the thing I liked most about her. She married me, yeah? That was probably stupid. Old Sinatra had it right when he sang, Pity me, I need you. I know it’s wrong, it must be wrong. But right or wrong, I can’t get along without you.
Jolene didn’t make friends as much as she took friends. They arrived; she opened her arms and smiled. She was like the happy drunk you met in a club. Senseless, full of love and goodwill. There was no alcohol diluting the cynicism that was in the rest of us, she just genuinely loved. So bizarre. I could barely stand myself, never mind a stranger. She once told me that if she weren’t drunk on life, she’d see people for who they really were and go into hiding. That was true. She was all stars in the eyes, seeing people’s potential. All. The. Fucking. Time. So stupid. She had no idea what piranhas people were. She had no idea who I was. Not the me I gave her, the other me. The one I compartmentalized. I was my best with her. The guy that fucked vulnerable, semi-broken women was a separate entity entirely. She didn’t know him, but she’d certainly heard of him from my exes.
Her last venture was Fig Coxbury, and also mine. I wished she’d been absent from class that day. Fig was five layers of rotten fruit underneath a smooth, candy exterior. Jolene was too saturated with love to see the rot. I liked the rot. You had to laugh. It’s all you could do.
Figgy Pudding was a fixture in our house. I was fat with anticipation of what would come of all of it. As Jolene always said, you couldn’t put three crazy people into a story and not have their worlds teeter-totter. For right now, she was an obnoxious knick-knack in my home. You could move her from room to room, but she was always there staring at you. Sometimes when I came home, she’d be sitting on the kitchen counter, swinging her legs, whipping quips around the room faster than Jolene’s KitchenAid mixer. Other times, she’d be leaving just as I walked in, either brushing past me with aggression or stopping to chat. Highs and lows, lows and highs. I’d argue it out with my wife. Fig’s mental instability was most prevalent on social media. It was shocking if you paused to look.
“You post a black and white photo, she posts a black and white photo,” I said. “You tie a bandana around your wrist, she ties a bandana around her wrist.”
Jolene was already starting to laugh and I hadn’t even mentioned that out of the five restaurants we’d visited this month, Fig had gone to four of them—less than twenty-four hours after we’d been there. I was even getting a little creeped out, and I dealt with people like this on a regular basis. Scratch that, I dealt with complacent loonies, bored loonies. I’d not had a legit, stalker looney on my couch in a long time. Those people never knew they needed help.
“Come on,” she said. “I could go to anyone’s Instagram and there’d be similar pictures on their feed.”
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